Phill Maker Goes Bankrupt, Bad Sign for Natural Gas Vehicles

phillbanktruptIf T. Boone Pickens had it his way, not only would commercial trucks and enterprise fleets be run on natural gas, but potentially our consumer cars would, too — he’s been pushing natural gas powered vehicles as a solution to kicking the U.S.’s oil addiction for almost a year. So it’s too bad that a company of which Boone is a director and the largest shareholder, Clean Energy Fuels, could have potentially rescued a Toronto-based firm that makes natural gas vehicle fueling stations for the home user: FuelMaker. Well, Honda actually owns FuelMaker, so the blame for not investing more in this technology can be squarely placed on the American division of the Japanese car maker (as some outraged natural gas vehicle fans are doing).
Regardless, as of April 2, FuelMaker, which makes “Phill,” the residential natural gas vehicle fueller, says it has ceased operations and gone bankrupt (hat tip Autoblog Green and The Auto Channel). If you call the company’s mainline answering machine you can hear a short explanation of the bankruptcy proceedings. The Phill just never seemed to take off — FuelMaker was founded in 1989 and started selling Phill 6 years ago. The fueller compresses natural gas from home gas lines, takes about four hours to fill an empty tank after a 50-mile drive, and costs between $5,500 and $6,000.

T. Boone and Clean Energy Fuels, which distributes natural gas fuel, had been trying to buy FuelMaker for $17 million from Honda and the FuelMaker Trust. According to Clean Energy Fuels and a regulatory filing, it was actually Honda who killed the deal. The regulatory filing just says: “Honda delivered to us a notice that it intended to terminate the purchase agreement; and, after subsequent discussions, on October 15, 2008, we and Honda mutually agreed to terminate the purchase agreement in accordance with its terms.” Clean Energy Fuel’s CEO Andrew Littlefair told us that the deal to buy FuelMaker from Honda fell through because Honda couldn’t provide financials in time, so Clean Energy Fuels just couldn’t legally buy it. The stalled deal was also holding up the company’s ability to raise its needed funds, said Littlefar, so had to be ended.
Honda had clearly been trying to sell the company for awhile. One of the biggest problems with the business model for Phill is that there’s very few natural gas vehicles for consumers on the market. The Honda Civic GX is about the only consumer natural gas car around and can be bought for $24,590 in select locations in California and New York. Bottom line: no cars out there to fill with natural gas, no reason for anyone to use a home gas fuelling system . . . no good reason to buy Phill.